Lori and Corey Cole Interview on Hero-U and Summer Daze: Part 2

Lori and Corey Cole Interview on Hero-U and Summer Daze

RPGFan: Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is arguably the most RPG entry in the series to date, but you’re currently working on a shorter story in the same setting with a summer theme. Summer Daze at Hero-U: Tilly’s Tale is more of a visual novel. We’ve been anticipating it for a while, as visual novels are something we cover as well. Can you share a bit about it, why it’s the current project, and any updates you have?

Coles: When we designed Rogue to Redemption, we took an optimistic and ambitious approach. The original idea was to make a “Rogue-like game with story,” but that quickly expanded to creating a “Quest for Glory-like game with more RPG play.” That, along with our inexperience in modern game development and lack of the infrastructure we enjoyed at Sierra, caused development to greatly exceed our original time and cost estimates.

We figured we could turn out the original concept game in 1-2 years, but development ballooned to over five years. At that point, and with both of us over 60, we had to rethink the idea of making a five-game Hero-U series.

Lori started playing and enjoying visual novel-style games such as Dream Daddy and Magical Diary. When she started talking about making visual novels set at Hero-U, I realized that they would still be adventure games, but we would strip out many of the more costly and time-consuming parts of creating the games. There would be just as much character interaction but significantly reduced animation and background requirements.

Lori completed writing Summer Daze: Tilly’s Tale in under a year, but that would have been too easy. 🙂 I decided we needed professional voice acting for the characters. The recording took only a few weeks, but we ended up spending a year breaking out all the voice lines. It should have been a two-month job, but we took on other responsibilities and were distracted by a worldwide pandemic and other challenges. At this point, the game is again “nearly done” but still needs additional testing and a more interesting player manual.

Tilly is again a “disbarred bard,” a rogue student at Hero-U. She’s there during the Summer before the start of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, and it’s a smaller and less complex game. Tilly has pulled a prank on the Headmaster, and she is assigned to run the end-of-summer harvest festival as punishment.

Tilly spends the early part of the game trying to pass on the responsibility to another student. Eventually she realizes that she can get help from others, but the main job is hers. Several times a day, you choose where Tilly will spend her time, and that determines who she meets in each time period. By talking with the same character multiple times, Tilly can develop a relationship, possibly leading to friendship.

The game ends at the festival with feedback on what worked and what can be improved. Once again, we hope players will play through the game multiple times, choosing different dialogue and friendships.

With final testing and release delayed on Tilly’s Tale, we’ve assigned JP Selwood to create characters, art, and animation for future games in the series. These include Summer Daze: Ifeyo’s Adventure, about a Wizard student learning to summon his first familiar and saving the University in the meantime; and Summer Daze: Sami’s Story, in which Sami is a humanoid Corgi warrior.

We’re also starting concept work on Puzzleworthy, a puzzle adventure game along the lines of my Castle of Dr. Brain. If I come up with enough ideas for it, we’ll develop that in parallel with Sami’s Story, with Lori writing Sami’s Story and Corey writing and designing puzzles for Puzzleworthy.

RPGFan: Can you share any background you may have with visual novels? Do you have any favorites?

Coles: Lori is a fan of Magical Diary, and we both liked Long Live the Queen by the same developer. Lori was particularly inspired by Dream Daddy to make a relatively simple game with deep character choices and relationships.

We also tried Chapters and Choices, but weren’t particularly impressed. They seemed more geared toward getting players to make in-game purchases than in telling great stories.

To Lori, interesting characters are the heart of a great story. All of our games start with a setting, then characters that make sense in that setting. Details of the story, puzzles, and challenges come later. I look at it as asking, “What problems does this character have? How can the player help solve them?” Then we build the rest of the framework around those character arcs.

A minotaur friend sadly admits they may not be the best choice to run the Harvest Festival in Summer Daze

RPGFan: One core component of any Quest for Glory game is that there is more than one valid way to approach major problems in the story. This definitely comes across in Rogue to Redemption, and I’m wondering how it comes across in Summer Daze?

Coles: Summer Daze is possibly more linear in nature. As with Hero-U and Quest for Glory, certain events take place at fixed times in the story. Against that background, the player (as Tilly) decides where to go and with whom to spend time. The story always ends with the Harvest Festival, but what happens there depends on Tilly’s choices and relationships along the way.

At one point, Tilly’s mentor asks, “What does it take to make a great festival?” Tilly might answer, “Good food,” “games,” “entertainment,” etc. Each of those gets more attention if Tilly works harder at them. Kalbin, the “second assistant Culinari student sous-chef,” can create totally unique festival food with sufficient direction and encouragement. Junker Maximillian will focus more on physical games such as races.

In general, Summer Daze: Tilly’s Tale is a feel-good story. There aren’t a lot of challenging — and arbitrary — adventure game puzzles, nor any CRPG-style combat. But it’s quite possible to succeed or fail by making good choices. Everyone will complete the game in a few hours but can have a very different experience in each playthrough.

RPGFan: Do you have a favorite character from this new Hero-U setting? Who is it, and why?

Coles: Kalbin is definitely one of the more fun characters, even though he has a relatively small role. Of course, Cyrus Nemati’s hilarious voice acting helps! John Rhys-Davies and the other great voice actors added a new dimension to Quest for Glory IV. Zehra Fazal as Tilly, and our other talented voice-acting team, do the same for Summer Daze: Tilly’s Tale.

I’m also very fond of Mooella (named after one of my WoW Tauren characters) and Kitty Hawksdottir. They’re strong, intelligent, and interesting female characters who are quite different from RPG stereotypes. Incidentally, Carolly Hauksdottir was the lead animator for Rosella in King’s Quest IV. We knew her through filksinging and tabletop roleplaying, which led to her introducing us to Ken Williams of Sierra. We like the name. 🙂

Lori tries to write every character with enough depth that we could make a game just around them. Shawn O’Conner, Tilly Appleberry, Ifeyo Kinah, and Sami are the stars of their games, but we hope players will be intrigued by every character.

Master Gerhard von Urwald and Mr. Terk appear in both Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption and Summer Daze: Tilly’s Tale. Mr. Terk was inspired by the Principals in Back to the Future and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s an authority figure you love to hate.

Master von Urwald has a rich place in Gloriana lore going all the way back to Hero’s Quest 1. Our Hero-U “Bible” shows him going through a path not unlike Shawn’s, from thief to chief thief, and eventually moral guide to rogues.

A mysterious figure appears in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption

RPGFan: You have a fun variety of streams and video updates going on. What are some games you’d like to stream and future topics you’d like to cover in video updates?

The games I play the most are World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm, and duplicate bridge. Lori has been playing a lot of Hearthstone: Mercenaries, along with those other two Blizzard games. I’ve streamed a little of WoW and could do more with it, although I suspect it’s completely confusing to many of our stream followers.

It would make sense to stream more of those, along with our games, and some of the classic CRPGs we’ve enjoyed. We were huge fans of Dungeon Master, and also played most of the Wizardry series. At one point, I was hooked on Heroes of Might and Magic, especially HoMM 2.

RPGFan: According to your streams and updates, Lori is working on a book.

Please tell us more about that! I’ve also heard that the idea for a Quest for Glory cookbook has been kicking around. Do you have a favorite QfG food?

Coles: A fan, who became an author under the name Mishell Baker, collaborated with Lori on a series of young adult fantasy novels inspired by the stories in Quest for Glory. They completed the first book, By the Book, and an outline and drafts of the second book in a proposed “How To Be A Hero” series.

We’ve streamed most of the chapters of By the Book but have not found the time to do final editing on it for publication. We’ll probably have to stop making games before we can get that done.

Lori created a Facebook page for a proposed “Hero’s Feast” cookbook based on the many dishes mentioned in Quest for Glory, but we only wrote up a few recipes for it. Lori is a restaurant-quality home chef, so it’s a fun combination of her interests.

Wizards of the Coast has come out with their own Hero’s Feast Cookbook in the meantime, so we will need to find a new title if we ever publish that book. Possibly “Cooking for Glory” or one of several titles suggested on our Discord.

The meals in Gnome Anne’s Land Inn are probably the most amusing. We don’t eat much pizza these days, but our favorite is a green garlic pesto sauce instead of tomato sauce, with artichoke hearts and occasionally other toppings.

RPGFan: Besides QfG, what Sierra series would you like to see get a remake or develop yourself?

Coles: We actually didn’t play many of the other Sierra adventure games. In that category, our favorites were Secret of Monkey Island and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, both LucasArts games. We’re happy to see that Ron Gilbert has made a new Monkey Island game, and we’ll likely play that.

From Sierra, we backed Space Venture, by Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy, and still hope we’ll eventually be able to play that. The Space Quest games had great humor, story, and puzzles.

Our first adventure game was ADVENT, aka Colossal Cave Adventure, so it’s fun to see that Ken and Roberta Williams have remade that game. We’ll probably give it a try, but not in VR – I’m prone to motion sickness.

A 21st Century take on the Laura Bow games might be interesting. I’m not sure if the “die at every turn” mechanic will be as fun today.

Quest for Glory IV Shadows of Darkness Screenshot of Dr. Cranium bringing his assistant to life in a Dr. Frankenstein like laboratory.

RPGFan: Are there any questions you wish you’d get asked in an interview but haven’t come up? What are they, and what’s your answer?

Coles: How about, “Hi! I’m Phil Spencer, and I’m an enormous fan of your games! I’d like to provide a full team and budget to let you make the game of your dreams and share it with millions of players!”

Except, actually, I did get a letter like that recently. A fan wants to provide a substantial matching fund to help us make Hero-U: Wizards Way. It was an tremendous vote of confidence but didn’t quite have enough zeroes for a big, modern game. We lost money on Rogue to Redemption, and I still have a large debt of honor to our principal supporter on that one. That makes it hard to consider committing to another large-scale game.

I’m surprised that nobody has asked us how we are managing to create new games in our 50’s (Rogue to Redemption), 60’s (Tilly’s Tale), and beyond. We might be 70 by the time we get to Sami’s Story and Puzzleworthy, let alone Wizards Way.

One answer is that we were already decrepit by game industry standards when we started Hero’s Quest development at Sierra. We turned 40 while working on Quest for Glory V, while Lord British started writing games in high school, and many others started during or immediately after college.

This delay gave us many life experiences to draw on. I spent a year in Germany during high school. Both Lori and I have always been avid readers and students of mythology and legends. One puzzle in Hero’s Quest — the seed-spitting spirea — came out of a combination of a kinetic sculpture we saw at the convention center in Phoenix and Lori’s interest in botany.

Today, we’re less driven than when we were in our 30s. We have several hobbies and family responsibilities that cut deeply into our game development time.

But our drive to tell stories, and construct exciting fantasy settings and challenges, is still here. And we have a much closer connection with fans through Kickstarter, and our Discord, Patreon, and Twitch streams, than was possible in the 1990s. The flip side is that we spend a lot of time chatting with fans that would have gone into making games back then, but it’s definitely worth it.

As indie developers that aren’t primarily focused on marketing, we have very limited budgets for our games. But within those constraints, we’re happy to make ones that we enjoy playing. That’s always been one of our rules — “If it isn’t fun for us, then who is our audience?”

As long as we have stories to tell, we’ll keep writing them, and making some of them into games. It just takes us longer than it did 30 years ago with a big company behind us.

Thank you so very much to the Coles for chatting with us and participating in this interview! Please check out Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption and Summer Daze and consider lending support to their efforts to continue making games, or just joining them for a stream. Check out our review for Hero-U and check back with RPGFan for updates on their latest projects and all your RPG needs.

Hilary Andreff

Hilary Andreff

Officially, Hilary focuses on proofreading and QA here at RPGFan and has been with the team since early 2017. You can also find her on the occasional podcast, doing a music review, or helping make a news post once in a while. Unofficially, she responds immediately to any talk of a Quintet game or the Shadow Hearts series and is known for pushing RPGFan's graphic adventure coverage. She may be one of the most likely staff members to make a friendship speech.